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Russia begins to “protect” Abkhazian waters

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, September 22
The Russian warship Novorossiysk has already begun patrolling the waters of Georgian breakaway region Abkhazia, Russian border guards reported on September 21.

The press office of the Russian Border Guard Service, which is part of the Russian Federal Security Service, announced that patrolling of Abkhazian waters had commenced “in full correspondence with bilateral agreements” signed between Russia and the separatist Abkhazian authorities. “We are not here to intimidate anyone, we are here to uphold the law,” Faik Mamedov, the captain of the Novorossiysk, told the Russian Vesti TV station. He said that the warship was part of a fleet of “artillery vessels” and had “quite serious capabilities.”

The Abkhazian authorities had previously denied that Russian warships would patrol Abkhazian waters, stating that Abkhazia had “enough power” to “eliminate” any ship that could enter its waters, however Georgian officials and military experts doubted the operational abilities of the so-called Abkhazian Naval Forces. In confirmation of this, one day before the arrival of the Novorossiysk the Russian Security Service announced that about ten coast guard boats of the Sobol and Mangust types would be deployed in the port of Ochamchire in the breakaway region, where the Russian authorities plan to build a naval base within one year. Russia first outlined plans to patrol the Abkhazian waters in August 2009, after Georgian law enforcers detained a Turkish vessel carrying a large amount of fuel destined for Abkhazia.

“The border guard unit of the FSB [Russia Federal Security Service] in Abkhazia has a group of boats which will resolve these issues, meaning providing security for [ships],” Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported Yevgeny Inchin, the Deputy Head of Russia’s border guard service, as saying. Inchin added that the boats would be moved to Abkhazia “in the nearest future.”

Georgia has detained four cargo vessels going to and from Abkhazia, accusing them of violating the Georgian law on the occupied territories which forbids any kind of the economic activity in the breakaway region without the permission of the central Georgian authorities. “The ships which we have detained were not detained because we are against trade with Abkhazia. We simply argue that there are procedures which should be undergone by everybody, and only after doing this can they enter [Abkhazia],” Georgian State Minister Temur Iakobashvili told the Georgian media in September.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry declared Tbilisi’s protest against the possible deployment of Russian ships in Abkhazia earlier this month. “A person or vehicle crossing or attempting to cross the state border of Georgia without passing through a border checkpoint, or passing through it in violation of the established crossing rules, or any non-military or military ship of a foreign state which, while entering the territorial and internal waters of Georgia, violates the rules established under this Law, will be considered a violator of the state border of Georgia. If Russia commits any of the aforesaid actions, Georgia is authorised to exercise the rights assigned to it under the Convention and take measures in a zone contiguous to its territorial sea in order to prevent and punish the infringement by Russia of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations within its territorial sea,” stated the Foreign Ministry in a special statement.